Israel’s image in the United States has long been that of the lonely democracy in an Arab sea of tyranny. But the anti-boycott bill recently passed in the Israeli Knesset–which comes right after the Arab democratic uprisings exploded conventional myths about the Middle East–is radically changing that image.
Omar Barghouti, a leading activist in the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, aptly predicted this change in a May 2011 interview. He said that “If this anti-BDS measure passes into law, Israel will have dropped one of its last veneers or masks of ‘democracy,’ fully exposing itself as an irreparable system of colonial and racist oppression that requires much of the same treatment used against South African apartheid.”
This recent New York Times editorial, which gives a nod to the BDS movement, is the best example of this process:
Israel’s reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished by a new law intended to stifle outspoken critics of its occupation of the West Bank.
They are relatively tame words, but it is a significant editorial coming from the New York Times.
The Jewish-American establishment has also taken notice. Jeffrey Goldberg has blasted the law. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman released a statement criticizing the law:
We are…concerned that this law may unduly impinge on the basic democratic rights of Israelis to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
And then there’s the U.S. State Department, which, although mildly, criticized the bill by saying that “Freedom of expression, including freedom to peacefully organize and protest, is a basic right under democracy.”
With the Knesset considering bills to curtail the power of the Israeli Supreme Court and to establish committees to investigate Israeli human rights organizations, expect the further ripping apart of Israel’s image as a democracy.